It used to be that when food in the kitchen ends up burnt, it goes straight into the bin in all its charred and smoking misery. Yet today, look into the menus of some of the most influential restaurants around and you’ll see a recurring trend: the words “smoked”, “charred”, “burnt”, or “blistered” precede many descriptions of their most popular dishes.
This doesn’t only apply to meat dishes. Vegetables and even cocktails now get the smoky treatment usually reserved for foods like steak.
Why are diners so hungry for burnt food?
Some have argued for the richness and layers in depth and flavour it gives to food. The blackened parts add a smokiness and complex bitterness that lifts traditional food. It lends a certain drama to foods that don’t normally or necessarily come into direct contact with the transforming power of fire.
In desserts and cocktails, the bitterness balances the sugar content so you get an experience that goes beyond a simple, flat and overwhelming sweetness. Not only that, but the crispy burnt edges that marry with the softer components give an interesting textural element.
In fact, one of the most important chemical reactions – browning – is a result of roasting, baking and frying. It creates distinct flavours and enhanced aromas found in food transformed by heat. When certain foods come in contact with high temperatures, the amino acids and sugars in food are rearranged. The outcome is the complex and deep flavours you find in foods like seared steaks, toasted marshmallows and crunchy toast.
Charring food takes this process even further. When it gets really black, bitterness ensues. In fact, some restaurants have taken the initiative to add this distinct bitter flavour to certain dishes and condiments by using char, for example ash from burnt vegetables, as an ingredient to delicious effect.
Something old, something new
Burning food may seem like a new trend, but in actual fact, this style of food preparation has been around in many traditional cuisines around the world.
Native American and Scandinavian cooking have made use of this method to feed their hungry for a long time. Venture into any Caribbean or Mexican kitchen, and the delicious aromas of charred food mixed with heady traditional spices will get your mouth watering in seconds.
In fact, a reason given by many customers who choose to eat burnt food is the authenticity it provides. Perhaps, besides the delicious flavours burning food serves up, the allure of charred food lies in the feeling of reality and going back to one’s roots.
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